Short story contest winner a comical "Vacation Gone Wrong"

By Christine Buckley, CLAS Today

What would you do if you came to your senses on another continent, in the desert, by the side of the road with nothing in your possession but a mango and a sneaking suspicion that you may have urinated in your pants?

That’s the situation depicted by the winning story in the 2011 “Vacations Gone Wrong” very short story contest, sponsored by the Long River Review, UConn’s renowned literary magazine published solely by undergraduates. Ellen Devine, a first-year master’s student in English at UConn, was announced as this year’s winner at the annual Long River Review Release Party on April 28 at the UConn Co-op.

“The fact that I got such positive feedback in the form of winning was great – I never expected that,” says Devine.

Known as “very short stories,” “short shorts” or “flash fiction,” the entries to this contest were stories told in 300 words or less. The contest was open to all Connecticut residents, and the competition’s director, undergraduate English major Reed Immer, said that the contest committee received entries from all over the state.

In the solicitation for stories, Immer encouraged people to “channel their worst vacation memories – be it from that hostel in Honolulu to that eighteen-hour delay at LaGuardia – and create engaging, brief stories.”

“Overall, the contest was a wonderful way to connect LRR with Connecticut’s many literary-obsessed residents,” says Immer. “It’s the first of many such events and contests.”

Originally from North Haven, Devine taught high school for eight years in Andover, Massachusetts and at Choate Rosemary Hall in Wallingford. She loved teaching, she says, but always knew that she wanted to write, so in 2010 came to UConn. She now focuses on rhetoric and composition.

The inspiration for her story, says Devine, was a food-poisoning incident that occurred while she was traveling in Nicaragua. She says that taking a class with Ellen Litman, associate professor of English and the director of the creative writing program, was a big factor in her decision to turn that experience into something tangible.

“We were writing flash fiction almost every week in class, and Ellen really encouraged us to submit them,” she says.

In addition to the prestige that goes with winning such an award, Devine says that the experience has been very good for her as a writer. She’s been working on a novel for a long time, and the contest has encouraged her to simply spend more time writing.

“This contest was a great way for me to practice following through with submitting [stories] in the ways of a writer,” she says. “The Long River Review has done me a great service.”

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